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Sufism or sectarianism?

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Guest Punjabi Nationalist

OP-ED: Sufism or sectarianism? —Ayeda Naqvi



The world is a different place today. And people like to believe that we have come a long way. But as far as tolerance is concerned, we have only gone backwards

I have been told not to write this piece. For I have a Shia name and Shias are being killed these days. But each time I pick up the newspaper or turn on the TV, something gnawing away at my soul tells me that staying quiet, this time, would be a sin.

Last weekend I attended a series of lectures at LUMS given by an American scholar on Islam, a sheikh whose mureeds (disciples) had invited him to Lahore to speak on Sufism. Having heard the eloquent Martin Lings and R S Kazimi speak on the same subject less than two months ago, I had high expectations.

And so I walked into a hall split down the middle by a white kanaat, men on one side and women on the other. Headscarves were being handed out to women — attending the lectures bare-headed was not an option.

By the end of the weekend, however, all veils around the Sheikh’s beliefs had been lifted. He stated that hijab was obligatory as were beards for all those who dreamed of entering heaven. He said that TV was haraam, music was haraam, and all pictures and statues were haraam. When I told him I was a journalist and pictures were necessary visual aids for some of my writings, he said that if I wanted to go to heaven I would find a way to learn to write without them.

Yet none of this bothered me. For these are all personal choices individuals make that do not harm others. Then someone asked him a question about Shias. And he let loose.

He described Shi’ism as bid’a (innovation, or heresy) and referred to Shia beliefs as haraam. He spoke of how Shi’ism was spread by the sword and there was no such thing as “Shi’ism†until 600 years ago when that term was first coined by Shia clergy. And as final proof of his belief, he noted that Shias were guilty of “gross†actions. As such, he instructed his disciples to be “nice†to Shias, but not to associate with them.

As I sat there listening to his tirade against Shias on the 7th of Moharram, a few days after the suicide bombing in Rawalpindi and a few days before the Ashura massacre in Karbala and Quetta, I couldn’t help wondering, in the midst of all his judgements, what happened to his Sufism?

Sufism is about love, about the recognition that we are all humans, all God’s creatures and therefore all entitled to God’s love as well as the love of our fellow human beings.

For a true Sufi, there is no action “grosser†than believing in one’s own self-righteousness to the point where you deny the humanity of other people. How can one reconcile the Sufi teachings of love, compassion and tolerance with the position that all those who do not share your particular perspective are doomed to hellfire? And since when has it become man’s divine duty to judge and punish those he considers to have misguided beliefs?

Shias who come under attack often console themselves with the thought that bigotry is the product of ignorance and that once people read and learn more, such prejudice will slowly die out. But if educated people who lecture at Harvard start preaching division, then what hope is there for people preaching in the villages, let alone the people listening to them?

Words are not innocent; they can be weapons in themselves. A person who teaches his students to look at other Muslims as heretics does not have the luxury, at least in this country, of subsequently denying responsibility for the acts of violence which will inevitably occur against those declared “heretics.â€

Between the Taliban and the Wahhabis, Islam already has an image problem as a religion of intolerance. There are many Sufis who are trying to change that perception, to argue that Islam is a religion of peace. But if their counterparts start preaching bigotry, then we run out of options.

And so I ask, what is it about Muslims that makes them want to kill other Muslims? It is no answer to say that 500 years ago Christians used to kill Christians with equal glee. Muslims do not live in a different era from the rest of the world. Instead, we share the same world, we share the same space and we breathe the same air. Maybe it’s time we started adhering to the same rules.

The reality, whether we like it or not, is that we live in a pluralistic world. It is only insecurity that begs uniformity. When will we stop demonising all that is different — when we have killed everyone who is not like us?

A few months ago, I attended a lecture in which an R S Kazimi, from England, spoke about the universality of Islam. He ended his talk by narrating the story of a group of Christian priests who visited the Holy Prophet (pbuh). According to tradition, they asked the Prophet (pbuh) for space to pray and he invited them to worship in the Masjid e Nabavi. And so, in this holiest of mosques, there was a Christian mass, one in which the Trinity was mentioned as was Jesus as the son of God.

The world is a different place today. And people like to believe that we have come a long way. But as far as tolerance is concerned, we have only gone backwards.

Ayeda Naqvi is a writer with a special interest in politics and Sufism. She can be contacted at ayedanaqvi@yahoo.com

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Guest Punjabi Nationalist

OP-ED: Shariah and Sufi tariqah —Atif Khan


Ms Naqvi’s ire should not only have been directed at the Sufi scholar whose words she found so disagreeable, but to the entire lineage of Sufi scholars who ascribe to precisely the same views, as understood unanimously by the four schools of jurisprudence that every renowned Sufi has ever followed

Ms Ayeda Naqvi’s defence of Sufism from the Sufis (“Sufism or sectarianism?†Daily Times, March 9, 2004) is symptomatic of the latest trend among some Muslims who seek the Tariqah (spiritual path) with only selective regard for the Shariah (Sacred Law): to put it bluntly, fana and baqa without fiqh. A renowned Sufi scholar visiting Lahore, who devoted over 11 hours to a captive audience about the beauty of Sufism and its place in traditional Islam, offended Ms Naqvi with a 10-minute response to a question about Shi’ism in relation to Sufism, namely that it is an innovation. Any traditional Sufi scholar would have given the same response. Ms Naqvi’s misinterpretation that “innovation†amounts to calling Shias unbelievers shows she simply wasn’t listening; it also feeds into the sectarian divisiveness that costs lives.

Ms Naqvi’s ire should not only have been directed at the Sufi scholar whose words she found so disagreeable, but to the entire lineage of Sufi scholars who ascribe to precisely the same views, as understood unanimously by the four schools of jurisprudence that every renowned Sufi has ever followed, namely the Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki and Hanbali schools.

Sufism, the Islamic science of ikhlas (sincerity to Allah), deals in reality and because facts are the currency of reality, I will restrict myself only to historical fact. The following facts establish that not only did every renowned Sufi follow one of the four traditional schools of jurisprudence, but also that each of the four schools strictly forbids sectarianism:

Fact: The Prophet (pbuh) strictly forbade sectarianism, and asked us to love his family and companions in countless authentic ahadith: “Adhere to the group (al-jama’a) and beware lest you separate, for the Devil is with the person, while he is farther from two. Whoever aspires to the midst of Paradise, let him adhere to the group.†“Allah’s hand is over the group, and whoever dissents from them departs to Hell.†“Ali can never be loved by a hypocrite, nor can he ever be hated by a believer.†“I am of Husayn and Husayn is of me. May God love he who loves Husayn.†“Fear God, fear God in my companions! Do not take them for targets after I am gone. He who loves them, it is for the love of me that he loves them, and he who hates them, it is for the hate of me that he hates them.â€

Fact: To avoid falling into a sect, one “adheres to the groupâ€, as every major Islamic scholar has done by following one of the four traditional schools of jurisprudence. The primary difference between a sect and a school is one of tolerance: a school offers a means to know the truth whereas a sect offers only bigotry by regarding all those outside it as unbelievers. Imams Bukhari, Muslim, Asqalani, Nasa’i, Nawawi, Suyuti and Subki were all scholars of the Shafi’i school. Each of these scholars had committed over 100,000 hadith to memory with their chains of transmission; a humbling thought when considered against the 10,000 or so hadith contained just in Sahih Bukhari. Intellectual modesty is the least of what is required in apprehending the magnitude of their scholarship. Wahabis, Salafis, Dr Farhat Hashmi of al-Huda, and other opponents of the four traditional schools should take note. If Imam Bukhari, a mujtahid who compiled the Sahih Bukhari, saw fit to follow Imam Shafi’i in hadith authentication, shouldn’t we at least remain quiet about our own high-minded disapproval of the four schools?

Fact: Every renowned Sufi followed one of the four schools of traditional jurisprudence. The Chishtiyya tariqa was founded by Mohiuddin Chishti who was Hanafi. The Qadiri tariqa was founded by Abdul Qadir Jilani who was Hanbali. The Shadhili tariqa was founded by Abul Hasan Shadhili who was Maliki. Ali Hajveri (Data Sahib) was Hanafi. Ghazali was Shafi’i. Rumi was Hanafi. Shah Waliullah was Hanafi. Bulleh Shah (a favourite among “progressive†Muslims) was Hanafi (meaning he followed a school that considers the hijab and beard to be obligatory, forbids the guitar, and restricts the socialising of men and women. So much for Lahori nightlife in the name of Bulleh Shah). Imam Malik once said: “He who practices Sufism without learning Sacred Law corrupts his faith, while he who learns Sacred Law without practicing Sufism corrupts himself. Only he who combines the two proves true.â€

Fact: Almost every Sufi tariqa, including the speaker’s Shadhili tariqah, traces its spiritual lineage to the Prophet (pbuh) through Imam Ali, so the Sufis’ veneration of the Family of the Prophet (pbuh) is even greater than the ordinary Muslims’.

Fact: All four schools regard Shias as Muslims. The speaker was not expressing only his own views when he referred to Shias as innovators. Rather, he was reflecting the views of traditionalists like Ghazali, Hajveri, Rumi (who actually referred to them as ahl al-bid’a), Mohiuddin Chishti, and the other above mentioned Sufis. Unpalatable perhaps to Ms Naqvi, but easily referenced in any traditional manual of jurisprudence. But innovators are different from heretics.

Fact: All four schools forbid the killing of Shias, or any other Muslim for that matter.

So what’s the practical relevance of following one of the four traditional schools of jurisprudence? The relevance could not be lost on anyone who pauses to reflect on the current state of Muslims, particularly during Muharram. Suicide bombers, sectarian killers, and suppressed minorities; nothing other than symptoms of our collective disregard and lack of adherence to traditional scholarship.

Onto fiction. Ms Naqvi somehow missed the point of the entire 3-day talk. A talk that saw no less than 35 individuals inspired enough to take bayt with the Sheikh; inspired by a message of love, unity and, at the very least, a move away from sectarianism. She found the obligation of hijab to be against her own sensibilities, though she has to look no further than the Household of the Prophet (pbuh) for women who never revealed their hair outside their homes. And when did the speaker ever mention that beards and hijabs were only meant for those who, as she put it, “dreamed of entering heaven� Ms Naqvi, an otherwise research-oriented writer, may benefit from listening to the talk once again (recording available from myself).

Her biggest mistake revealed itself in her own article when she mistranslated the word bid’a. She writes “innovation, or heresy.†Innovation, yes. Heresy, absolutely not. Rather, to call a Shia a heretic is actually a kind of innovation itself. I can only pray that literary missteps like this by a non-scholar don’t cost anyone their life. But she doesn’t stop there. Ms Naqvi writes: “...what is it about Muslims that makes them want to kill other Muslims?†The answer is easy: ignorance. The kind typified by self-proclaimed “Sufis†whose armchair musings would turn the Shariah into a plaything and the rich tradition of authentic Sufism into little more than a punch line at a cocktail party.

Atif Khan writes and lectures on Islamic economics and finance. He studied Economic Development at Harvard University and has worked as an investment banker with Morgan Stanley in New York and London

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